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Walter Nickerson Hill Papers

Biographical note

Walter Nickerson Hill was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Albert B. and Elvira Nickerson Hill in 1846. He attended Chauncey Hall, and was awarded an Sc.B. from the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard University in 1865.

Hill obtained a position as chemist at the U.S. Torpedo Station in Newport in 1869. While there, he created a series of new methods of producing explosive compounds and published a number of papers that established his reputation as one of the world's leading experts on explosives. Among other things, Hill invented -- and obtained U. S. patents -- for improved techniques for the manufacture of liquid carbonic acid (1874-5), improved blasting compounds or dynamites (1873-4), improved methods of heating gas for motive power (1875-6), and (with Albert G. Caldwell of Indianapolis) for an apparatus and method of demagnetization (1881). In addition, he produced refinements in both the process and apparatus of producing nitroglycerine and of demagnetization for the purpose of heating gaseous matter for use in motors without causing fire. His pioneering work in motor chemistry led, in 1881, to a job as chemist at the Repauno Chemical Works, founded by Lammot DuPont, in Gibbstown, New Jersey, where Hill quickly rose to the rank of Superintendant. Tragically, Hill died on March 29, 1884, along with Lammot Dupont and four other men, in an explosion of the nitroglycerin works at the Repauno Chemical Company.

Hill married Katharine Louisa Smith, whose father (Augustus W. Smith) had been the President of Wesleyan University and a successful instructor of Mathematics. It seems that Hill himself was something of a frustrated mathematician. From 1880 to 1881, he tried unsuccessfully to secure an appointment as Professor of Mathematics in the U.S. Navy.

Katharine and Walter Hill had three children: Perry Childs, Walter Nickerson, and Katherine Ledyard.